(Reuters) - Idaho on Thursday approved the first grizzly bear hunt in the state in 43 years, a decision denounced by conservationists waging a court battle to restore protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park.
U.S. wildlife managers in June said the roughly 700 bears that roam parts of Yellowstone and the adjacent states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, no longer faced the threat of extinction. They removed the bears from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife, opening the way for trophy hunting outside Yellowstone.
Both Idaho and Wyoming plan hunting seasons this fall while Montana said it was holding off to ensure the bears’ long-term recovery.
Idaho is offering just one male grizzly for sportsmen who can submit their names in a random drawing for a hunt that runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 15 in the eastern part of the state.
The plan is strongly endorsed by sportsmen, who say hunting grizzlies is long overdue. But it has infuriated conservationists who argue it is too soon to kill grizzlies in the lower 48 states, where they occupy just a fraction of their historic range.
“We are disappointed that today Idaho granted trophy hunters their wish to kill a grizzly bear to mount a head on their wall or use as a rug on their floor,” said Andrea Santarsiere, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center is among groups suing to restore protections for Yellowstone-area bears that were stripped of their protection last year in a case whose outcome could affect planned fall hunts.
Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips said in a statement on Thursday that Yellowstone area bears have been recovered for years and hunting is part of a conservation strategy that can be used to manage their numbers.
Wyoming wildlife commissioners will make a final decision later this month on a hunting proposal that could see as many as 23 grizzlies shot and killed.
Grizzlies in the Lower 48 states were shot, poisoned and trapped to near extinction before coming under U.S. Endangered Species Act protections in 1975, when their numbers had shrunk to as few as 700, which compares to about 1,800 today and to an historic high of 100,000, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That agency on Wednesday signaled it may consider floating a delisting proposal in September tied to grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyoming; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler